I MADE YOU A PLAYLIST: Sk8er Boi Forever & Always 🖤
Avril changed everything.
Core memory unlocked: It’s summer 2003. I’m 10 years old and attempting to escape the humidity in the basement with my little sister and our babysitter. Earlier that year, I had received a CD in my Easter basket, one with a grainy blueish cover featuring a teenage girl in baggy black pants and dark eyeliner. (I thought it was an unusual choice for the Easter Bunny, tbh.) It’s playing in my blue boombox now, blasting loud enough to (hopefully) scare off any spiders lurking in the basement’s unfinished storage area, waiting to terrorize us the next time we dug through our dress-up bin or pulled out a craft project.
I’m sitting in my dad’s old swivel desk chair, spinning around faster and faster until the room is a total blur, while belting out every. single. word. of “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne. Except one. As a stereotypical rule-following oldest child and an overachieving Catholic school student (in other words, likely *not* your average Avril fan), I had to hum loudly over the word “damn” every time the song’s chorus arrived. Gasp! So scandalous, I know. But I was hooked.
Anyway, hello again. 👋🏼 I’m returning to your inboxes on this lovely Sunday evening in 2022 because I simply could not let the 20th anniversary of Avril Lavigne’s debut album Let Go pass by without paying proper homage.
Everything I needed to know about songwriting I learned first from this album.
As you may have guessed, that was not the last time I sat in the basement for hours on end singing Avril that summer. It was a perfect storm: I was old enough to care about lyrics and their meaning, but still young enough to belt out-of-my-range melodies without a care in the world.
Somehow I totally missed the Britney and Backstreet bandwagons, and I was never really into *NSYNC or Christina, either. But Avril? Avril made her way into my world and I cannot overstate how much I loved (and still love) this album. Only recently have I begun to realize just how much of my current music taste and overall understanding of songwriting and pop music writ large can be traced back to these songs—so naturally, I have Some Thoughts™️ to share, if you’ll indulge me.
First of all…
This is a country album.
Wait, what? Yeah, I said it. It needed to be said. Listen, Avril got discovered after she won a contest to sing with Shania Twain, and then her future record label wanted her to take a Faith Hill-esque route with her debut project (to which she apparently said thanks but no thanks, I need more edge)… So I’m hardly making a bold claim here.
If you scrub away the dark eyeliner and use a bit of your imagination to swap out the pop-punk production for some banjo twang or acoustic guitar, there is simply no way around it. These are country songs, deeply confessional and honest, with catchy hooks and intelligent lyrics that build complete worlds and tell full narratives with characters and conflicts and resolutions. All the things I loved about books as a kid, wrapped up neatly in a 3-minute musical package. It makes so much sense. Later, in high school, country was the first genre that really pulled me in and made me want to dive headfirst into the nitty-gritty details of the music.
Which brings us here:
“Sk8er Boi” walked so that “You Belong With Me” could run.
Ah, yes. The “he was a punk / she did ballet” to “she wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts” pipeline. Avril wasn’t necessarily the first young female artist to make it big with a song about ~true inner feelings~ or the trials of teenage life or young love—shouts to Alanis Morissette, Michelle Branch (whose 2001 album The Spirit Room also just turned 20 and 100% paved the way for Avril), and probably countless other badass female artists from the decades before my birth. But for me, Avril’s songs sounded truly diaristic and accessible, like nothing I had heard before.
Maybe it’s just my muddled middle school memory mixing with 20/20 hindsight and blowing things out of proportion, but “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi” absolutely changed the game, did they not? I mean, these were *major hits* that forced people to at least attempt to understand teen girls’ feelings and problems, all in the digestible-yet-potent form of an addictive chart-topping song. Sound familiar? Enter: “You Belong With Me.”
6-ish years after Avril came along, I subconsciously recognized the same smart, confessional lyrics in the work of another artist: Taylor Swift. All it took was one listen to Taylor’s self-titled debut, a few impassioned singalongs to “Should’ve Said No” and “Picture To Burn,” and then, well, if you know me at all, you know the rest is history. I wasn’t connecting the dots at the time, but looking back, it all checks out. Early Taylor = Country Avril.
These days, of course, Avril’s line of descendants is getting longer by the minute. There’s Olivia Rodrigo, obviously (watch this, it’s important), plus personal faves like Soccer Mommy, Sydney Sprague, beabadoobee, girlhouse, Baby Queen, and probably at least ten others I’m forgetting.
Look, all I’m saying is… my dearest Gen Z-ers, if you’re reading this, please just take a few minutes between SOUR and Red (Taylor’s Version) to queue up Let Go. I think it’ll sound familiar. 🥰
Some Let Go Miscellany
A few truly iconic lyrics:
Chill out, whatchya yellin' for? - “Complicated”
I'd throw it all away before I lie / So don't call me with a compromise / Hang up the phone / I got a backbone stronger than yours - “Nobody’s Fool”
I'm not the milk and Cheerios in your spoon - “Nobody’s Fool”
I never spend less than an hour, washing my hair in the shower / It always takes five hours to make it straight / So I'll braid it in a zillion braids, though it may take all friggin' day / There's nothin' else better to do, anyway - “My World”
A sleeper hit:
God, I love this song.
A fun little playlist that started as an experiment but actually slaps:
Re: the “he was a punk / she did ballet” to “she wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts” pipeline mentioned above, just press play on this and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
In conclusion, if you asked me to name the one single album that changed my life, I would answer with Let Go—not a Taylor album, not Hilary Duff’s Metamorphosis (another 2000s masterpiece), not my dad’s old Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road CD. It took me nearly 20 years to figure it out, but it’s always been Avril. And I’ve never even purchased a single item from Hot Topic.
Thanks for reading! If anyone runs into Avril anytime soon (or anytime ever, for that matter), please tell her thank you for me.
Summer playlist coming soon! ☀️